Typical food at a member’s house for our lunch (lunch is the main meal here)
beans (sometimes with squash, kale, or meat, but often just beans)
spaghetti with a little bit of tomato sauce
one or two kinds of meat, often chicken
(frequently without sauce, but sometimes with)
vegetable salad/some cooked kale/a plate of sliced tomatoes/possibly fruit
Fruit juice and/or soda. (It´s not normal here to drink water or milk with dinner. Coca-cola is very popular — I’ve had a lot more Coke so far than Guarana. Lemon-lime and orange soda are also popular. The fruit juices are amazing. )
Cake or pudding for dessert!
The food here is good. Most people don´t eat very spicy food.
The pineapple here is amazing! It is less yellow and more translucent here, super sweet, and extremely delicious. Papaya and mango are also possible. There are lots of fruit vendors with carts in the city center. They have bananas (often green and sweeter), mangoes, grapes, watermelon, coconuts, pineapple, papaya, sometimes nuts, corn, and several fruits I don´t know the name of (graveola, aceola?, etc). I also tried a jackfruit otter pop/popsicle-ish thing the other day. That was super fun. I use shredded canned unripe jackfruit at home to make barbecue-style tacos, but I’ve never tried a ripe, sweet jackfruit. It didn’t taste super strongly of anything, but it was good.
This week was very special. We met the mother of the young woman I told you about last week (parents forbid her to see us, come to church, get baptized) on the street. She lifted all the restrictions, said it was a misunderstanding and she didn’t have anything against us, and apologized. Then her daughter came to the baptisms we had this week and went to the dance afterwards! So it looks like we’re going to be able to teach her again. Our prayers that her parents’ hearts would be softened were answered!
I didn’t go to the dance of course (not really a missionary-approved activity! We´re supposed to listen to church and classical music and eschew all romance-related activities so we can focus on helping people get closer to our Savior), but some less-active members, investigators, and recent converts did and everybody was excited about it. Hopefully we can figure out how to have those dances more often.
Right after we met the first mother on the street we met a mother of one of our other investigators. The day before she said he couldn’t get baptized last week because he needed to be 18 and spend many months learning about the church before making that decision. We were concerned — he has a strong testimony, has learned all the lessons we’ve given him by heart, and we felt strongly that he should be baptized on the date we had chosen. The discussion was going badly when I suddenly had the idea to share the story of Peter and the other fishermen who immediately left their nets and followed Christ’s invitation “follow me” (Matthew 4:18-22). It was a little tough because I couldn’t remember the exact word for fisherman and “follow me´´ is a little hard to conjugate on the fly! But I got close enough that my companion could correct me, and I think the sister understood. Then she agreed to allow him to get baptized! It was a little miracle. The other young man who got baptized this week also had trouble with parents’ permission and we were worried he wouldn’t be able to make it to sacrament meeting to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, but everything worked out in the end.
We had a good week this week! People in Palmares are really open to hearing about the gospel. Of course lots of people don´t want to change churches, but they´re open to hearing our message in the street or listening to a scripture. People are definitely more religious and more open to talking about religion here than in most of the US. There are scriptures stamped on walls, cars, signs, shops, houses, etc. There are also cars with loud speakers that go around playing religious messages.
Our investigators so far have been very open to our message and willing to act on it. We had a baptism last week and another one this week. I´m so happy for them! It´s really great to see someone developing a testimony, learning about the gospel, and being blessed.
Something really sad happened with one of our teenage investigators who was planning on being baptized. She has a really strong testimony and her faith is inspiring. She was excited to be baptized and convinced that it was the right step. One of her parents had agreed to sign the baptismal form. Unfortunately someone told him that the Church was a cult/sect, etc. and her parents decided she wasn’t allowed to go to church or have any visits from the missionaries! We had been praying for her so much, hoping that her parents’ hearts would be softened, and on Sunday she showed up at church with an older sibling! It was amazing. We´re still not allowed to see her and don´t know what the future will hold, but that was a little miracle.
So far missionary work here has been pretty different than what I expected. We have a lot of recent converts and less-active members that need to be visited, but our branch [small local church congregation] is small, so we do the vast majority of visits. So one or two days we did more work with members than with investigators! Consequently it´s been pretty tough to do any street contacting at all, because we always have more people to visit than we have time for, and no time to teach more investigators! But we´re going to focus more on finding new investigators this week.
I’ve had serious trouble with being understood this week. It´s a little sad because I remember all the right words, use the right grammar, manage to express myself in Portuguese well, and then the person doesn’t understand me! Some people can’t seem to understand a single sentence I say — one person even said I was speaking English! That was a really bad sign! My American accent is just too thick, but I´m working on that.
I am having trouble with the computer today in several diferente (!) ways. It is trying to fix my spelling so if you see a random Portuguese word — that´s why. Also, Google Drive isn´t working and I have less time than I expected, so blame any oddities in this email on that!
My first almost-a-week has been great. There are so many things I want to tell you guys! You actually can feel the humidity the second you step out of the airport. It´s so diferente (I can´t fix it!) If I make my hand a fist it will be covered in watery sweat after a few minutes. My first area is a small city called Palmares. It´s very hilly, like San Francisco, except that there aren´t any trolleys to take you up the hills, so we do a lot of walking! There is lots of greenery and a big river. It is hot, but there are clouds and a nice breeze. The flowers are beautiful, the weather is great, the fruit is awesome, and the bugs are not bad. It would be paradise if I didn’t need so much sunscreen!
Speaking of which, so far a couple diferente Brazilians every single day have said something like “You are very white. Use sunscreen!” I got a very mild sunburn my first day from walking to the Palmares bus stop in Recife (we waited for the bus for 3.5 hours! It’s two-ish hours from Recife to Palmares.) but I´m making a serious effort to keep the sunscreen manufacturers happy.
I have a very clear memory of someone in the CTM [MTC] saying that their instructor was praying they would get trainers who didn´t speak English so their Portuguese would progress faster. For some reason, I thought that seemed super unlikely, because how could you possibly function if your companion didn´t speak English?! Guess what . . . my companion is Sister Porcote.
She´s super awesome, she´s from Curitiba, she´s been on a mission for six months, and . . . we only speak Portuguese. She learned some English her first two months here but not enough that speaking English helps us communicate better. I understand enough Portuguese that we can talk about everything we need to talk about. Obviously I ask her to explain lots of words, but not so much that communicating feels super laborious. So that´s cool!
I can understand other missionaries pretty well too, but understanding and speaking to Palmares-ians here is a lot harder. Church talks and lessons are super easy to understand. Outside of that, sometimes I understand enough to participate in conversations, and sometimes I only kind of know what´s happening. The accent is very diferente, so hopefully as I keep listening I´ll start to understand better.
My favorite thing about the past two weeks was General Conference. I think maybe one reason I started my mission so late was because I needed to be in the CTM [MTC] during conference. We got to watch all the sessions in English, whereas lots of missionaries in the field didn´t get to see all the sessions. I felt the spirit so strongly, and I felt very clearly that the announcements and talks were inspired. At one point, [Elder] Rasband said something about how if we are faithful and diligente our questions will be answered or we will be able to put them aside for now. That resonated with me.
2-3 weeks ago we had a devotional broadcast from the MTC with Elder Cook (I think). He started off by saying that he had given lots of talks to missionaries in his lifetime but he had never talked about his current topic before, but that he felt inspired to talk about it that day. Then he started talking about the very thing I had been praying about for weeks. I had been praying especially fervently that day, and I really believe that talk was an answer to my (and others) prayers. It was a little miracle from God for me. He didn´t actually answer any of my factual questions about the subject (why is this like this, etc;) but he answered all of my spiritual ones (why do I feel like this, shouldn´t I feel differently, is this right, what can I do to find answers to my questions). The same thing happened at General Conference. Some questions were answered, but mostly I just felt a profound sense of peace — that I was doing the right thing, that what the apostles were saying was true. If you haven´t watched it [yet] you definitely should!
I have so much to say this week and less time than usual! I wasn’t sick for long and I’m totally fine now, so that was a blessing. This is also the last time I’ll be emailing from the CTM! I’ll be leaving super early Tuesday morning (likely between 2 and 5:45!), driving to the airport, and flying a couple hours to Recife. I will probably be able to send a very short message when I arrive, but I’ll have to wait until Recife P-day (I don’t know when it is) to read emails and send a real weekly one.
Things I’m excited for:
1. Teaching the gospel
2. Serving the Lord and the Recife-ans
3. Seeing Recife
4. Speaking Portuguese
5. The possibility of occasionally using a kitchen (instead of cafeteria food)
6. Never playing another game of volleyball
Most days we have 50 minutes for physical activity. I’ve played so much volleyball at the CTM, but it’s still languishing at #2 on the Sports I Dislike Most list after kickball. The CTM has an adequate gym with lovely exercise bikes but unfortunately it is never open.
Reasons I don’t want to leave the CTM yet:
1. I will miss my companion (she’s going to Natal)
3. Also Portuguese
4. Portuguese (and teaching real live people)
It’s difficult to see my progress in Portuguese sometimes, because I constantly hear myself making mistakes. But I know progress is happening. On August 28th, I knew about 20 Portuguese words and Portuguese was utterly indecipherable. Today (thanks be to God) I know a few thousand words, I can sorta have conversations, kinda teach missionary lessons, and Portuguese is sometimes mostly understandable and sometimes only partly indecipherable. That may change with the Recife-ish accent, but God willing, I know I will understand it eventually. Right now having conversations in Portuguese is thrilling — it’s so exciting to be able to communicate in a different language! Sometimes I understand the words people say but don’t interpret the tenses correctly or get confused by words with multiple meanings.
This week our pretend investigator asked if me and my companion would baptize and I said yes! I thought he asked if we had been baptized. Hopefully now that I’ve made that mistake here I won’t make it in real life in Recife!
In other news, one of our two instructors was abruptly reassigned, (they needed his language skills for the Help Desk) so we got a new instructor for our last week. We were all sad because our old instructor was great. We spend about 3 hours a day with each instructor, so we get to know them a little bit. Our new instructor seems nice.
For you Harry Potter fans out there, I strongly recommend Brazilian traffic for a taste of The Knight Bus experience. Last week we drove to the São Paulo Temple in a van, and it was so similar to the Knight Bus that I expected the cross + rosary hanging from the van’s mirror to become a shrunken head at any moment. We zoomed around, stopping centimeters behind bumpers, driving on the wrong side of the road to pass, accelerating through tiny gaps, rapidly switching lanes and swerving around semis in bumper-to-bumper traffic — it was an experience. Dad, your right foot will get a lot of exercise on the invisible brake here. Mom, I hope you visit Brazil; you will love it. But find a good TV show to watch so you never look out a car window!
*Easily nauseated people, skip the following paragraph*
One of the elders in our van threw up during the van ride! He was slightly sick to begin with, but the swerves definitely exacerbated his problems. Another nauseating moment happened yesterday. One day after the MTC President said “leave childhood things outside” about twenty times in different meetings, two elders had a jello-eating contest, complete with cheering crowd. The winner ate 22. The loser ate 20 and threw up (purple) right outside the cafeteria door!